The Monday Profile: Shaun Miller
Shaun Miller’s brace in Crewe’s impressive 3-1 victory at home to Oxford was the latest notable performance from the Alsager-born striker, who is steadily gaining a reputation as one of the best strikers in the lower two divisions of the Football League. Building on his career-best 19 goals last season alongside Clayton Donaldson, Miller has now taken the role of main striker with aplomb, scoring 4 times already this season. Quick and with an eye for goal, it is unsurprising that he has been heavily linked with a move higher up, with Watford and Huddersfield among the clubs that have been mentioned in recent weeks.
Crewe’s inability to seriously challenge at the top end of the table last season and their relatively mediocre start this time round will have done nothing to quell such speculation; after all, Miller will have seen peers like Chris Dagnall, Brett Pitman and, most recently, Adam Le Fondre make the transition from League 2 to Championship. Whilst his recent commitment to Crewe is illustrated by the signing of a new contract until 2013, the opportunities to earn more and prove himself at a higher level that will come his way with continued good form will surely eventually become irresistible.
At 23, Miller will also be aware that his days as a ‘promising’ striker must be nearly at an end, and if he wants to play further up, he needs to do so soon – certainly in the next couple of years. He has undoubtedly been nurtured at one of English football’s most famous academies – fans will need no reminders of the celebrated alumni of Dario Gradi’s Gresty Road nursery over the past 20 years – David Platt, Robbie Savage, Rob Jones, Danny Murphy, Seth Johnson, Geoff Thomas, Rob Hulse, Dean Ashton, Nicky Maynard, Luke Varney and the rest. But all these players had to leave eventually to fulfil their potential, and Miller will surely be the same, particularly since those around him seem of far lesser vintage.
Moreover, the reality is that the club has been in decline. Two relegations since the turn of the century and an aging manager in Dario Gradi who seems unwilling to relinquish his grip on the club, despite the peak years of his tenure having long since gone, mean that this is not a club moving forward. Gradi’s almost entire reliance on academy products – not all of whom, unfortunately, have proved up to standard – has led to a chronic lack of experience at key points in recent seasons. Gradi’s stubborn, if admirable, insistence on playing ‘the right way’ has also possibly cost them, with former defender Neil Cox just one to point at Crewe’s lack of streetwisdom in recent seasons. Whilst Gradi’s vision of Crewe as a top-class breeding ground for the brightest and best footballers in the region continues to be a romantic and enduring one, it may well also, unfortunately, end up being a futile one if, by eschewing prosaic methods at times, their first team do not win enough matches to keep the club as a whole looking forward and feeling positive.
If Crewe can be seen to be at a crossroads, then the same can surely be said of Miller. The callow winger-cum-striker of seasons gone past has developed into a nippy centre forward to be taken seriously. Whether he can kick on and prove to potential suitors that he is really worthy of comparison of following in the footsteps of such illustrious names as Ashton and Platt, though, remains to be seen. His start to this season suggests he is heading in the right direction; whether the same can be said of his club at this point remains unclear.